Malawi: How Mutharika Can Save Malawi and Preserve His Legacy

23 August 2019

President Peter Mutharika issued a clear threat this week and made known the position of his administration on the coming airports and boarders' protests - he is ready to unleash the full terror of the defense force against civilians who are being used as pawns in the struggle for State House.

President Mutharika confers with General Nundwe of MDF

I applaud the speech and commend the president for coming out strongly against enemies of his administration. I am, nonetheless, also very sure that the threats and military terror are not the solution to this crisis. Actually, over reliance on the army to preserve his power in volatile times like these is a huge mistake because the army is there to defend government only in principle, but in practice it is the greatest threat to any government. The army is the only organ that has the capability to takeover government from politicians at any minute of the day or night without seeking any mandate from the electorate or anyone.

When there are violent and destructive mass protests with a majority of the socially and politically active citizens being anti-government, the loyalty of the army cannot be predicted and neither should it be tested.

As a result, i strongly feel that Mutharika has risked his presidency by publicly showing that he draws the confidence to keep himself in office from the defense force. The danger here is that he cannot guarantee under the circumstance that if demonstrators proceed, the defense force will really spray bullets on civilians just to keep him in power at this time when his unpopularity is very high.

Mutharika has gambled here because the legitimacy of his presidency is hanging on the balance of whether the MDF will really kill for him because they might not. And if they don't he will be exposed and get embarrassed. Those demonstrating Malawians will mock him further and get energized to demonstrate further since it will appear that he has even lost command of the army. I can't predict what will happen afterwards, but it won't look really good.

Therefore, I insist very much that Mutharika needs a different strategy and approach. His strategic objective must not just be about keeping himself in office but also preserving his legacy. This is his last term and he must think really hard about how he wants the people of Malawi to remember him whether he finishes this term or not.

His strategy to use the army against demonstrators who are very likely to get violent is a huge mistake. He is only playing into the hands of his enemies. All these anti-Jane Ansah demonstrations are a mere provocation of an overreaction from Mutharika so that the country should really burn and get bloody because only then can the international community force themselves to mediate peace deals, or worse; the army can take over with the excuse of wanting to bring back order and save lives until fresh elections which, if this happened, DPP would never win.

Mutharika and the DPP administration must not test their fate too much. I propose the following courses of actions which are very bold, daring and tough decisions but possible:

Firstly, Mutharika must facilitate the resignation of MEC chairperson, Dr. Jane Ansah within the coming two days to stop the airports and borders demonstrations. I am very confident that Ansah is not guilty and the courts will eventually vindicate her.

But this is politics. Mutharika should not risk his office and lives of Malawians for Ansah. Cadets and all members of the DPP must understand that Ansah did not give them victory. They do not owe her anything. It is 38% of the electorate that gave Mutharika and DPP victory. Ansah was only managing the elections. She did not decide the winner. She only announced who had more votes. As a result, Mutharika, Cadets and the entire DPP do not owe Ansah anything. They must stop defending her and taking her side. She was only a public officer doing her job. If anything, they owe the 38% who voted for them a safe and peaceful Malawi which they can get if Ansah resigns, even if temporarily.

I know very well that the Opposition want the DPP administration out of power not Jane Ansah. But if Ansah resigns, HRDC will be forced to call off demonstrations as they go back to their command center to reload. Meanwhile, peace will return on the streets and Mutharika will have a window to implement the second course of action which I have given below.

Secondly, after the resignation of Ansah, Mutharika must pursue diplomacy and dialogue with MCP and UTM to find peaceful solution to this political crisis. He must not use Muluzi or PAC or anyone. He must personally invite Chakwera and Chilima for face to face talks and they must talk until they find a compromise. I can guarantee that the Opposition will not reject a diplomatic approach for dialogue from Mutharika himself.

Mutharika must make these tough and bold decisions which may not really be good for party politics, but they will be excellent for Malawians and for his legacy. He must understand that this being his last term, his legacy matters more than the politics of power. To him, time for politics is over. Political fights and power plays with the Opposition will only distract him and divert his focus. He needs a good political environment to give Malawians the best of his last leadership contribution.

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